“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne
I love this quote. I have lost all sense of time and day here in Burgundy. I was shocked to learn today was Friday. I wake, I go, I eat, I sleep. And each day feels like my favorite.
Coming off another long day, my body is aching from contorting it every which way to drag hoses, wash bins, maneuver pallet jacks, dig out large vats of fermented whole clusters to go to press (which then of course must be cleaned). I have never felt so strong and so weak in all my life. So young and so old. I am sometimes amazed that I keep getting out of bed each day and endure another. My old self was more of a wuss.
But the truth is… once I start, I cannot stop. It’s fortifying. Primal almost. Using your body to the fullest, grunting, wincing, pushing, pulling, getting filthy, bruised, bedraggled. Then…turning on a hose, and washing it all down the drain. Not the wine of course. But, the mess you made to achieve beauty.
Before this harvest, I knew I had mental fortitude, but physically it has been a while since I genuinely pushed myself to any great lengths– beyond that which I could visualize. Nearly 9 years has passed since I ran a marathon, and that may have been the last time I surprised myself. Talking with the two other female interns here at Dujac, we shared how empowering (and liberating) it is to be part of the winemaking process. We don’t bother shaving or sprucing up. We just get up and do everything the guys are doing. There are no limits. And we are all learning that we are every bit as capable– with even the tasks that seems impossible at first. But we keep at it, learn the techniques and move on to the next job.
There is never a lack of things to do. The learning curve is steep, and I have come to respond almost involuntarily, as I scan the room and look for something to wash, someone to help, a hose that needs rolling up, chalkboards needing updates, a tank that needs a foot stomp (I can’t say my feet have ever been so wonderfully exfoliated). We begin each day tasting through each vat, and listening carefully as Jacques, Jeremy and Alec discuss what they need (remontage, pigeage, pressing). It’s at this moment one cannot deny that it is more than science. This is art.
We take a break at lunch to refuel, connect with one another and sip wines that are not considered ‘lunch wines’ in my world. The Seysses family has been beyond generous in edifying our experience with twice daily blinds at lunch and dinner. Yesterday , we had a 4 wine vertical of Clos Saint-Denis, since we were pressing it that afternoon: 2006 (quite fresh, forward cherry notes, beginning tertiary dimension), 2003 (you can taste/feel the warmth of this vintage), 2004 (quite elegant and pretty right now, more herbaceous but well balanced fruit) and 1999 (really high acidity met with round, ample fruit). Today, we were pressing Clos de la Roche, so we were fortunate to venture into another vintage comparison: 2011 (wow- this wine from Dujac was in such a charming place; it may have been my favorite today), 2008 (just beginning to show its age, there was still quite a bit of forward fruit and intensity), 1999 (really round, chewy tannins, generous fruit, higher acidity like the Clos Saint-Denis from 99).
I couldn’t be more thankful for the people I have met through this experience– not the least of which my fellow interns. Each brings with her/him such different experiences and unique perspectives. Two are from the southern hemisphere: Cooper Davis-Draper from Australia…but kind of Canadian–it’s complicated) and Willie Trew from New Zealand. This isn’t Willie’s first rodeo in Burgundy. With a couple harvests at DeMontille under his belt, he has been a great leader here. As for Cooper, he has worked a few harvests around the world as well and has proven to be incredibly patient and helpful with newbies like myself. Marie Charlemagne is a total badass who makes wine up in Champagne for her family’s domaine. She’s a total boss. And then there is Alex Karosis, a somm at Legacy Records in New York. Her insights, talented palate and experience tasting so many baller wines for her work has been an incredible add to our table conversation. And, of course, our actual chef! Tom Stafford came here from Napa to prepare our meals. Asking him the menu ahead of time is what keeps me motivated through the day.
Language fails when trying to articulate the energy felt during harvest. There is a sense of communion from the moment we wake up and begin tackling the day’s tasks on through the final meal together and even afterward when we retreat to our ‘annex’, play music, chat, dance, laugh, share night caps or cups of chamomile on our ‘sober’ nights, which have come to basically mean we don’t drink outside of lunch and dinner, but beer doesn’t count.
On that topic… Who knew it would take my coming to Burgundy– the mecca of fine wine– to finally get this Wisconsin-born gal to drink some beer? But that’s what it took. Beer is kind of a thing in the wine industry. Whether after a long day of trade tastings, competitions or super hot mid-summer bbq’s, it seems that’s what wine drinkers crave. I never understood this. Each and every occasion I heard crown caps cracked, I would pass and gross others out by having more wine, cocktails or water. But there is one other occasion that lures our kind to those suds… making wine all day. Somehow, some way, there is just something about pure exhaustion that makes a grainy, light, crisp, lemony mediocre Kronenbourg taste really fricken amazing. Just one. That’s all.
Huddled under the covers, as I listen to rain fall outside, I am eagerly anticipating the Boeuf Bourguignon on the menu tonight. I dug out 2 vats today (one of which was 70hL tank of whole fermented clusters), cleaned a press, gave some tanks remontage that needed it and generally assisted with a half dozen other tasks. I am so hungry. And so happy. It is a gift to have an opportunity to use my body fully, to nourish it, to commune with others day after day, sleep and get up with the sun.